Archives for March 2012

Tuesday, March 27, 2012 – Last Ride in Costa Rica

Slept late this morning!! Didn’t wake up (other than for a few minutes each time the rooster crowed and the dogs barked and the monkeys howled) until 8:00! That’s the latest since we’ve been here, must be the lazy atmosphere of the Caribbean coast, feels just like one of the islands! Managed to get breakfast and still be ready to go riding by just after nine, with me back on Santana and Hubby on Alaska. Raul isn’t here today, he’s off to a school to learn English better, so we have Natasha, a Dutch émigré with a goth-like mane of black hair, very tall and thin with striking blue eyes. We mounted up and headed out, with her on an old stallion who was sluggish and apparently half-blind, so we didn’t get out to trot at all like we did with Raul. In fact, we didn’t trot at all on this trip, we just walked on the road and in the jungle, and cantered (and momentarily galloped) on the beach. I have to say I preferred Raul. I asked Natasha several times to stop so that I could take some pictures and she ignored me, leaving me with the choice of punishing my horse by making him stay while the lead horse moved on, or forgetting about my pix. Obviously, I let it go, but it was a disappointment, though the ride itself was just right. We were out just under three hours, and had a great time solidifying some of the things we’d learned over the last two weeks. Our own horses are going to be in for a surprise when we get back! Got back around noon, cooled down a bit, than rec’d a request from Brigitte that we clear out of our room asap so her maid can get in to do the cleaning before she left for the day, so we had to rush around, grab a shower, pack as best we could then move everything out on to the patio so that the girl could clean. Her cook had left us a couple of sandwiches for lunch which we scoffed down, then we finished packing and waited for the bus to pick us up. It arrived at 2:30, which was right on time according to our tour company, but then we ran into bad rain and fog on the mountain, plus the driver seemed unaware that we had a 6:00 connection with another bus to get back to our hotel, but when I told him he assured me after calling his office that a bus would be waiting (as best as I could understand, for he spoke little English, and I speak little Spanish), but when we arrived, we were surprised and delighted to discover our new friend Paulo was there to meet us!! How great it was to see him again! Apparently the Interbus service didn’t wait for us after all, so Paulo came out to rescue us when the Costa Rican Reps office learned of the confusion. After many hugs and thanks, Paulo dropped us off at the beautiful Bougainvillea Hotel again. We invited him to dine with us, but he had a pickup at the airport at about 5:00 in the morning, so he deferred. We’re hoping to see him again before we leave, but were very thrilled he was there to help us again. Ran up to our rooms, changed clothes, went straight to the bar for a drink, then had another FABULOUS dinner in the hotel restaurant. We’re starting to wind down now, and we are SO glad we have tomorrow to sleep all day if we want. Couldn’t imagine trying to fly back tomorrow!

Monday, March 26, 2012 – Another Great Jungle, Beach and BOAT Ride

Had another great breakfast at Brigitte’s (LOVE the range-fed eggs, so yellow and delicious! I miss my chickens!), then headed out a bit later than planned (I forgot to download my videos last night, and it took longer than I expected), leaving around 9:45. Raul had changed out Hubby’s horse, as he was a bit strong-headed and Hubby hadn’t always succeeded in controlling him yesterday (at one point, the horse insisted on jumping over a log rather than going around it, which fortunately Hubby survived, but made us all a bit fearful for him). This time he had the horse Raul had had yesterday, an Appaloosa named Alaska, so we’ll see what happens today. We headed north toward the river, trotting whenever we were on the road, cantering fast whenever we were on the beach (which was a LOT of the time), arriving at the river at about 10:45. From there, Brigitte’s friend Jose took us on a canoe trip (more like a large longboat) up the river, down a canal into a banana plantation, up the river some more, where we saw lots of different kinds of birds, iguanas, fish, and all sorts of wildlife. When we came back down the river, almost at the mouth of the river he turned north again into a sort of estuary, and stopped at a house (likely his own) where we got out of the boat, and he took us to another area that was like a nursery for crocodiles. We saw at least three little sets of eyes peering out at us, and we heard a lot of thrashing around so we knew there were a lot more around. Brigitte is starting to offer night-time crocodile tours (when they are most active), so apparently young Jose is quite the croc expert. He also picked up a few more coconuts, hacked an opening into them and we had a quick milk break there. We piled back into the boat and returned to our original mooring, where Brigitte had been attending the horses. She left in the boat with the boys, leaving us with Raul again, the horses, and lunch, which we quickly devoured. More chat before we mounted again, and took some more jungle trails and canters on the beach. At one point, during the last couple of canters, Hubby had gained so much confidence on Alaska that he had him galloping at top speed, and I chased after him just to see how it felt. It was incredible!! My GPS registered 28 mph! What great horses, and what a great day! After our showers, we walked up the street to the Reggae Bar, this time they got my order right and I enjoyed a fabulous seafood pasta dinner. Once again early to bed (back to the circadian rhythms of life), another great day behind us!

Sunday, March 25, 2012 – Fabulous Ride with Raul in Cahuita

 We began the day to the sound of roosters crowing and dogs barking, but we slept well, securely inside our mosquito netting on a reasonably comfortable bed. Breakfast was cooked and served by Brigitte herself, as her help apparently called in sick today (well, it is Sunday after all). It was a nice breakfast (the first I’ve had without rice and beans : -), and soon we were getting ready for our ride. Raul had the horses all saddled up and ready to go. My horse was a sort of chestnut named Santana, Hubby’s horse was named after the region we’re in (and so was unpronounceable to me and I promptly forgot it), and off we went, albeit around 9:30 rather than 9:00, which we learned is indicative of the laid-back attitude of the region, which frankly, suited us just fine. We trotted across the road straight on to the beach for a short stretch, then back up to the road where we crossed again and started up a village road with lots of foliage around the houses we passed. Soon we reach the main highway, crossed that, then soon started climbing. The footing was almost all gravel and some tarmac (not our favorite), but we saw a few good views along the way. Eventually we came to a utility road under a power line, and that became our next trail, again, not our favorite, but was the trip to a waterfall, and the usual trail required about 45 minutes of uphill hiking, which Hubby was not willing to do, so this was an alternate route that would get us there from the top rather than the bottom, so we can’t complain. Raul had to smack his machete at a few plants to clear the way (especially a particularly nasty one with hook-like horns all the way up the stalks and along the leaves. I had just barely brushed against one in Galan and it burned for two days!), and soon we were making a left into the jungle for a short bit that took us to the top of the waterfall. Being a Sunday, some local kids were hanging out down at the swimming hole at the bottom, and came up to the top as well, while we lunched down on a couple of sandwiches Raul had brought. It was a bit early for us (11:15), but since we hadn’t had to make the 45 minute walk (just a short 5 minute walk from where we left the horses), and Hubby wasn’t interested in climbing down to the pool at the bottom, so there wasn’t much else to do but eat and talk. Raul’s English wasn’t terrific, but he was very interested in learning more, and asked many questions on how he could become a better guide. Well, as giving advice is our business, we were happy to chat with him at length on the subject, and it turned out to be a very informative lunch on both sides. After the long lunch, we walked back up to where left the horses, mounted up and headed back down the same way we had come, until we got to the beach. We turned left (north) and started walking along the edge of the black-sanded beach (thus the name, Playa Negra), then, in an instant, we were cantering, and cantering, and cantering! These horses, which had seemed so sluggish when we began, suddenly came to life, running like the wind, so fast we even found we had to hold them back, they wanted to gallop at full speed, despite the fact we were heading AWAY from home. What a great ride! After what seemed like ages, we finally turned away from the beach, avoiding the many pieces of driftwood, crossed over a line of trash, and went into the jungle that bordered the beach. Inside, it was much cooler in the shade and moisture of the forest, and the flowers and wildlife was spectacular! We saw birds and monkeys and flowers of every conceivable shape and color, with huge palms and other leafy trees towering over us. It was truly beautiful. After weaving through the forest for some time, we came back out to the beach, and once again cantered and cantered and cantered. Then we went through another section of the forest before finally turning around and heading back. It seemed we did like a figure eight, so that we had a different route going than we had coming, at least until near the end, when we had two full-out gallops on the beach before heading back across the road to Brigitte’s. Wow! This was by far the longest, fastest canter and gallop we had ever done, not just since being in Costa Rica, but in all the time we’ve had our horses! One thing we’ve surely realized on this trip is how little we ask our horses to really do, how much we let them get away with, and how much more they are capable of if we work with them a bit more. Now all we have to do is have the time to do it! The entire trip lasted over 5 hours, but we got the impression that Raul gave us an extra special long ride because he enjoyed our company and the advice we had given him. We thanked him, and the horses, who are by far the friendliest we’ve had on our trip, cooled off on the patio for a while, showered, then walked down the road to a local seafood house on the beach called Sobre Las Olas (on the waves), where we enjoyed a delicious candlelit meal at a table sitting right on the beach. The seafood soup I had was excellent, and Hubby had fish and chips, which he also thoroughly enjoyed. In bed early, looking forward to another excellent day of riding tomorrow! (pix to come)

Saturday, March 24, 2012 – Transfer to Brigitte Cahuita

Once again woke up to the circadian rhythms of Costa Rica before the alarm even went off, down to breakfast by 6:30, back up to the room and packed up, ready to go by the time our van arrived about 10 minutes late for our 7:30 pickup time. The driver took us to another hotel in downtown San Jose and left us, telling us there was a connection that would be there in about 20 minutes, and true to his word, Guillermo arrived in another van full of people to take us to Cahuita. One family was from near where I was born, the other was two women from Arizona on their way to a Yoga/guru conference. We chatted comfortably, and at times I did my best to engage Guillermo, who I think thought I understood Spanish much better than I did, though I did feel like I was getting 20-30 percent of what he was saying. I kept asking carefully planned questions, which I think he appreciated, then did my best to listen carefully to as much of the answer as I could understand. It was a good exercise for me, and I think he was pleased to be able to show his pride for his country, so it worked out despite the fact I didn’t understand everything. The terrain completely changed as we crossed over the mountains. Suddenly everything was a verdant green, with large foliage everywhere, rain forest style. We stopped once for about 20 minutes halfway through the trip for coffee and snacks before heading out again. We passed millions and millions of bananas and pineapples in plantations, and there is a major port at Limon with stacks and stacks of containers waiting to be shipped, and caught a glimpse of a huge cruise ship sitting in port. It was there we caught first sight of the Mer Caribe, or Caribbean Sea, which we followed for some time afterward. We finally arrived at Brigitte Cahuita around 12:30, and were met by Brigitte herself, who escorted us to our cabin and gave us a tour of the place. The cabin was small, with no furniture other than the bed, which was fairly comfortable, and covered by mosquito netting, as the windows had no screens. The bathroom was fully tiled and the shower good-sized, but the towels were old and thin and had a sort of dank smell to them, that was really the most unpleasant thing. Well, that and the fact that there is no real sewer system here, so we’re not allowed to put paper of any kind in the toilet, so there is a wastebasket next to it for used paper, which is taken away daily (well, almost daily, as the maid had the day off our first night there.) That took a little getting used to. But there was a nice tiled patio with some plastic chairs and a table, as well as a hammock, so it was reasonably pleasant, certainly no hotter than the west coast, and the coolness of the large vegetation of the jungle kept is feeling cooler. It turns out the horses are just outside our cabina window, though at night they are taken to a large pasture somewhere, then brought back in the morning. These seem to be the most fit horses we have seen so far. There were only two in the paddock (the rest were out on a tour), and they were bright-eyed and attentive, and seemed to respond immediately to the attention we gave them, unlike many of the previous horses we’ve seen, which seemed dull-eyed and disinterested. Shortly thereafter, the tour returned, and we found the same to be true of those horses, small but not as skinny as some we’ve seen, and bright-eyed and interested in what was going on, a refreshing change! Can’t wait to see how they respond under saddle tomorrow! Once we greeted the horses, we walked into town, about a 15 minute walk, where we bought a couple of T-shirts for Roy and some other trinkets we needed, then stopped at a local tavern for a fresh mango margarita, which was delicious! As we sat on the deck, a vaquero came by leading a small pack of horses, including one baby colt trailing behind. We thought they might be going to Brigitte’s but we later learned they were her competition, which surprised us that this tiny town had room for two horse trail competitors. She was generous enough to say that there was enough business for everyone and we left it at that. After having a drink on our little patio, we walked down the short street to the Reggae bar for dinner (there are two clubs at the end of Brigitte’s road, so the sound of music is omnipresent until closing time). Though they screwed up my order (they gave me rice instead of pasta with my shrimp), Hubby’s fish (still on the bone) was delicious, and I helped him with it a bit. Back to the cabina, off the bed early under a spray of mosquito netting… Hey, it’s dark, what else is there to do? (pix to come)

Friday, March 23, 2012 – Final Ride at La Ensanada and San Jose Transfer

Once again woke up at the circadian crack of dawn, to breakfast at 7:30, in the saddle just after 9:00. Today we rode to the beach, mostly walking for the first 45 minutes or so. Stood under a tree on the beach for a while, apparently the footing was too soft for the horses to actually travel on the beach, at least according to the wrangler Albin (though it looked pretty good to me, but I had to defer). We finally headed back (w/Hubby making the joke, “I thought we were waiting for the sunset”: -), and once we got to a field, we were at last allowed to canter for a short bit. Shortly thereafter we came to another big field, where all the testosterone fueled a series of horse races across the field. Frankly, I really enjoy cantering nice and gentle more than I do an all-out gallop (or at least in addition to), so I held my horse back (who fortunately was willing to let me, albeit reluctantly), and I got a few nice canters back and forth across the field before we moved on. Albin’s horse nicked his face on a strings of barbed wire going through a fence, and even though it was small, it bled like crazy (as horse heads always do), so he decided to walk his horse back and let his assistant Michael finish the tour. I’m not sure what it was, but as soon as Albin was gone and Michael took over, the atmosphere immediately relaxed. Albin seemed pretty disinterested in the tour, simply going around the farm and letting us follow him (always at his pace and always on his cell phone), whereas Michael immediately starting pointing out more wildlife, picking a branch of blossoms off of a tree to show us, taking time to let us see things, and being very aware of satisfying our needs. When we reached the stretch where they usually gallop the horses, he veered off into a field so we could gently canter, then once we got back to the road, made sure we made the turn where I fell yesterday before giving the okay for everyone to gallop if they wanted. I again held back a bit to my preferred until we got a little closer to the barn, then let my horse loose to run the last few hundred yards. It was probably the best of the four rides, especially once Michael took over, so we left the barn happy. Got back to the rooms and started packing until lunch at 12:00, anticipating a 1:00 pickup that ended up not happening until 2:30 because of road works and bad Friday traffic. Had to stop at the CienFuego Eco-ranch for the German couple we had crossed paths with earlier, (where we got a chance to say hello to my previous horse Peluche, and I even had a few hard berries that Lucero had refused to eat this morning, but that Peluche LOVED!) It was even hotter there than on the coast. Piled everything and everyone in and headed to San Jose, where, after getting stuck in rush hour traffic, we managed to arrive back at the Hotel Bougainvillea by 6:15, said our good-byes to our great host Paulo, settled into our rooms before heading back downstairs where we enjoyed a drink and dinner with our fabulous new friend Bill before parting company at about 9:00. Bill will be leaving very early in the morning, so we won’t see him again here, but I think we all felt the time would come when we’d get together again, as we really had a great connection, lots of laughter and hilarity when we’re together. Off to the luxurious bed, without even turning on the TV once! (pix to com)

Thursday, March 22, 2010 – Two Rides at LaEnsenada

The howler monkeys woke me up around 5:00 this morning, but Hubby said he didn’t hear a thing. I went right back to sleep and didn’t think they hooted any more, but Bill said they went on for another hour, so I guess I was oblivious. Breakfast at 7:00 followed by another ride at 8:30. This time was mostly walking with the occasional jog at first, riding slowly and quietly through fields, forests and a bit of jungle before we reached a lovely spot with large rocks near a young teak forest. We rested there for more than half an hour (not that we really needed the rest, it was just part of the ride I guess) before heading back the way we came until we picked up the road where we came in. We saw a crocodile in a ditch near one farm, and admired the work of a melon plantation, as well as a salt farm. It was a lovely ride, but frankly the pace we were keeping was making me crazy, just a bit too fast to do a slow jog, a bit too slow to canter (though I discovered my horse Lucero had a perfectly wonderful slow canter, the kind that’s almost standing in place!), but I eventually discovered a fast walk that turned out to actually be a “pace” step, which is when both legs on the same side of the body go at the same time, rather than diagonally as most horses do. It’s the kind of movement a horse that pulls sulkies in harness races do. It’s not normally a natural gait, it’s one that’s learned, but apparently, Lucero had learned it somewhere along the line, and I was extremely grateful! It was wonderfully smooth and kept up to the slow jog of the horse master beautifully. Loved it! Then, as we neared home, we started cantering for a bit across a field, and before you know it, on the turn for home, we were all galloping like madmen, stones flying everything, Hubby almost lost his hat, mine came off though my string kept me from losing it, and we carried on like that around the home stretch, again for at least a half a mile. It was incredibly exhilarating! Not many places I’ve been, or even heard about, let you race like that, but we loved it, though it’s not necessarily a good practice for the last stretch back to the barn. Got back around 11:00, rested until lunch (though Bill went out to the pool), where we met a birding couple from Grant’s Pass Oregon for a nice lunch conversation. After lunch and an afternoon siesta, we dressed again for riding, and headed off from the stable. It soon became clear that the path we were on was mostly the path we took yesterday in reverse, but at a much slower pace. After walking for quite some time, Bill (in response to my body language, which was frustration that we had these great horses but were simply walking all the time) finally requested that we be allowed to canter a bit across a fabulous field we were crossing. With some reluctance and some urging from our guide Paulo, the wrangler finally agreed, and we had a lovely canter, across the field, then back again, then across again, just to enjoy the moment. There were some cows there, too, so we were able to circle around them a few times, which added a little variety. It was a good time, but one that probably should have been included without us having to ask. Anyway, we walked some more, until we finally climbed a hill to the lookout point that was to be our vantage for the “sunset” portion of our sunset ride. Unfortunately, it was still 45 minutes before sunset, so instead of taking the chance to ride for another half an hour, we were compelled to sit there looking at the view, which was quite stunning, but we didn’t need to look at it for 45 minutes! Bill was ready to leave earlier, but was patient enough to wait until the actual sun went down before we headed back, at my request. Once again, we walked, then sort of pushed the wrangler into a canter, until we were on the home stretch. At least I thought it was the home stretch, but I was wrong. We were galloping along the gravel road when we suddenly came to a turn which I had forgotten about, and we tried the make the corner too quickly just behind Hubby, and I was a bit worried about my horse slipping on the gravel, and didn’t balance properly on the turn, so as a result, my horse turned faster than I did and I flew off. Fortunately, I held onto the reins long enough to break the fall, but then my horse got too excited at the other horses coming up behind us (and the reins are really short), so the rein was ripped from my grip and the horse took off. Fortunately, having had the fall broken, I landed without any injury, except a tiny rope burn on my pinkie from where the rein slipped out. I got up and walked the rest of the way back, encouraging everyone to just keep going. Hubby couldn’t get his horse to stop, Bill kept going after my urging, Paulo got off his horse to walk with me just to make sure I was okay despite my reassurances. No big deal, really, I seem to fall off horses all the time, and it was entirely my fault for not keeping my balance on the turn. Afterward, I had a stiff drink (always a cure for whatever ails me), had a nice dinner, had more active discussions with two Belgians and another Tico astronomer who was there to observe the stars before retiring for the evening, with a hot shower and looking forward to a good night sleep. (pix to come)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012 – Travel to La Ensanada Lodge

We must be getting used to the hard beds here, Hubby and I both got a pretty good night’s sleep, got mostly packed before our 7:00 breakfast (it’s impossible to sleep late here, no one believes in room darkening drapes so the sun is beaming in the window very early!). In the van by just after 8:00, heading out for a twisty, windy ride around the north, then west side of Lake Arenal. The road took us further west once we got over the continental divide. It’s amazing how it goes from green and verdant to brown and arid just by crossing that imaginary (or rather, not so imaginary) line! We stopped at a very touristy place for a cup of coffee and a bio-break (not to mention, time to get my stomach grounded again!) before heading further west. We stopped again at a grocery store so Hubby could get some brandy (this had become a running gag, always looking for brandy!), and also at a pharmacy for some medicine for my lip (alas, I had a reoccurence of a cold sore, worst I’ve ever had!! My lip looks like I have leprosy or something. Ugh!). Finally, after several miles of gravel road, we arrived at La Ensanada. “Lodge” isn’t exactly the right description, it’s more of a half-circle of cabins facing the Gulf of Nicoya. There was a nice breeze coming in, which was essential, as there was no air conditioning in any of the cabins, just a paddle fan and lots of louvre windows that we quickly opened. Lunch was served shortly, where a group of Dutch tourists settled in at the table next to us. After lunch, we had time to settle in a bit more until our first ride, which was at 3:00. A short siesta later, we were at the barn meeting our new partners. Hubby’s horse was a big gray or blue roan kind of mare (an extremely popular color here) named Falcon (en espanol, of course), mine was a bay gelding named Lucero, and Bill’s was another bay, a mare named Viagra (I’m not making this up!) We headed out along the farm roads, and soon we came upon a tree filled with howler monkeys, which is a sight apparently all the tourists want to see, so we spent a few minutes with them before moving on to a spectacular view of the Gulf of Nicoya from a ridge high above the beach. We continued on, and then the skies started to darken about the time we reached a beautiful salt marsh (salinas) where there were hundreds of bird. Though this is the dry season, they do still have some rain here occasionally, and it wasn’t too long before we were getting wet, which, frankly, none of us minded, as the heat at that time of day was quite oppressive. We trotted most of the way, a few times as the perfect sitting trot I’ve been searching for in a Criollo, but a lot of the time it was quite rough again. The great thing, however, was that the horses were very responsive, very quick to do what they were asked, and that made for a very enjoyable ride. Soon, we came to the “introductory” part of the ride, which was, I guess, to see what we were made of. The wrangler took off across a field first cantering, then galloping, and the rest of us fell in behind, running like the wind! All of the horses seemed quite happy about running, no reluctance at all, yet quite willing to slow down once we got to the other side of the field. It was wonderful! I don’t think Hubby had ever gone so fast on a horse, and certainly not for that extended a period. But that was just the beginning. Field after field, we cantered and galloped across, mostly the latter. We slowed down once more to a short time, then we ended up on the road back to La Ensenada, and started galloping on the gravel road all the way back to the barn, at least a quarter mile, maybe more. Stones were flying, and frankly, it was a miracle no one got hurt when the horses started bunching up a bit, but it was spectacular! Can’t wait to go again tomorrow! We were out only a bit more than an hour, but I got the feeling they cut it a little short because of the rain, which had slackened off a bit after it’s initial downpour, and was almost over by the time we got to the barn. We had a cocktail on the porch (Hubby’s brandy, of course!) before heading over to the dining room (which is really just an open air pavilion), where we had another drink (my first, since I was busy doing laundry during cocktails on the porch. Not long out of bed afterwards, and since the beds here are the most comfortable we’ve had since San Jose, we were both out like a light! (pix to follow)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012 – Ride near Volcano with Don Tobias horses

Breakfast at 7:00, but the buffet line didn’t open until almost 7:15 and they promptly ran out of eggs, though we managed to get through before that. On the road at 8:20, on the horses by 9:00, crossing the road first, then climbing through farmland first, heading towards the volcano, then dipping into some true tropical forest, howler monkeys and spider monkeys, sloths and white hawks. Horses were dead-sided, so it took a bit of coersion to finally get them listening to us all, though I guess that’s pretty typical of a tourist trap like that. My horse’s name was Estrella, which means Star, which is so funny because my horse at home’s name was Star before I changed it to Apollo!! Once we pulled a dead branch off the trees and showed it to them, though, they finally started responding a bit more. Got a little canter in, but mostly walking and a little trotting. Enjoyed the scenery immensely, which is really the reason we came to Arenal anyway, it’s just one of those tourist places you just have to see when you’re in Costa Rica. Got back around noon, so we all went across the street to the steak house for lunch, since the hotel restaurant wasn’t very impressive. The steak house was pretty good though, and we had a pleasant time. Paulo had to go guide a hiking tour up around the volcano, (all three of us declined his invitation), and Hubby and I rested in the room while Bill went off for a massage. Paulo came and picked us up (a little late, but no big deal) around 5:30, and off we went to the even more tourist-y hot springs. Several man-made levels of water had been dammed, and bars had been put up all around, a fairly commercial venue (though less than most, we’ve heard). Heard lots of different languages, French, German, American English, so obviously a popular place. After about an hour in the various layers of pools, and a mango vodka fruit drink, we were joined by the hiking group for dinner. The other group was a family from Hershey, PA, middle aged parents and kids mostly college age, on an extreme adventure of white-water rafting, zip-lining and hiking. Quite a fun group, we had a fairly lively dinner conversation. Got back to the hotel by 8:30, went across the street to the steakhouse for a nightcap (brandy for Hubby, hot chocolate for me, with Bill joining us, with more lively chatter). Headed back to the hotel about an hour later, off to bed, feeling quite relaxed after the hot springs. (pix to come)

Monday, March 19, 2012 – Ride on the Pacific, Travel to Arenal Volcano

Me and Peluche on our last day together

Rode the horses down to a meeting spot on the other side of one of the mountains, doing some incredible climbing along the way. Trucks for horses and for us met us there, then we went to a small cantina for a drink while horses kept moving. Met up with them again at a place near the beach for short ride along the black sand. Much drier and hotter here. Stopped at a little cantina for lunch, eating shrimp on rice (much more than any of us could eat), then ended at about 3:00 at the Eco-Ranch. From there we were met with another van, which then took us on the long journey to Lava Tacotal Hotel near the Arenal Volcano in the center of the country. Stopped once for coffee, didn’t arrive until 8:00 in the dark, so we didn’t see much on the way once the sun went down. Long day, very tiring. Had dinner at the hotel, lousy service, fair food, no brandy or bourbon. Hard beds, but they had electric and hot water, and, would you believe, a jacuzzi bath, which I promptly filled up with much appreciated hot water and soaked in for a good half an hour. To bed by 11:00, not even bothering the check for wi-fi.

Sunday, March 18, 2012 – Hubby’s Birthday

Breakfast at 8:00, by nine heading out to newly cut trails through some farms and wilderness areas. Very narrow and dangerous at times, but much more like what we were looking for. Lots of views from tops of hills. Came back for lunch, then in the pm they took us uphill, to some views that were simply stunning. Bolivar said only locals had ever been there, we were the first tourists to ever visit, and I believe it. Absolutely gorgeous! Got back around five, cold showers, finally met the ubiquitous Fabio, the owner of the lodge, and outfitter and organizer for the trip. Had a very nice dinner thanks to Anna, and was then surprised by a birthday cake for Roy. In place this small I don’t know how they managed to keep it a surprise, but they did! A very pleasant surprise, which we all promptly scoffed down, along with some wine. Anna even gave Roy a pair of socks as a birthday gift (unless someone left them laying around and she just thought they were ours, we’re not sure : -). We ended up chatting later than we probably should have, then packed our bags in anticipation of our early departure tomorrow, getting into bed around 11:00.